Hillel Students Abroad

    Sophie Lavine

Sophie Lavine ’21.5, South Tel Aviv, Israel
I’ve been to Israel many times on family trips and on summer programs, but last fall, during my time abroad, I approached Israel in a different way. Over my Febmester, I spent six months living and working in South Tel Aviv, which is home to Israel’s community of non-Jewish African asylum seekers, primarily from Sudan and Eritrea. I worked in two local schools, both made up of African students. I organized activities for them, helped with homework, and spent time getting to know them. I felt like I was taking part in Israeli society for the first time. Getting to know these children who saw Israel as their home gave me an entirely different perspective on Israel and the meaning of a Jewish state.

    Sarah Asch

Sarah Asch ‘19.5 Córdoba, Spain
During my semester abroad, I had the unique experience of being one of the only Jewish people in the city. Having grown up in a fairly Jewish environment, this isolation from my community presented challenges and opportunities to learn and grow. I got to teach my Spanish friends about my religion and culture, as I was the first Jew most of them had ever known. I studied art history at the local university, including one course on medieval Christian art and another on the Islamic artistic legacy in Spain and Portugal. It was fascinating to learn about the history of other religions, especially in a different cultural and linguistic context. While I learned a great deal about myself and my values, I’m excited to return to Middlebury and the Jewish community there.

    Ben Freedman

Ben Freedman ‘19, Tokyo, Japan
Studying in Tokyo was a surreal experience on many levels. I visited some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my life; had conversations in Japanese that transcended the conventional topics we’d learned how to discuss in class; and met a wide array of people from all different backgrounds. In one sense, it was a nice break from the academic rigor of Middlebury; in another, it was actually the same exact amount of rigor, amplified and repackaged not as homework and tests but as everyday life. In this unfamiliar landscape, there was obviously no sympathetic teacher there to correct grammar mistakes and point out cultural nuances. While certain day-to-day tasks required little to no thought, other tasks—asking for directions; interviewing local shop owners; selecting and purchasing a SIM card and signing an accompanying contract—really put my classroom skills (as well as life skills) to the test.

    Hannah Krutiansky

Hannah Krutiansky ‘19, Madrid, Spain
I spent last fall studying in Madrid. My first weekend there I went to a Masorti synagogue where I met a French student who was also studying in Spain. Together we explored the diverse and complex Jewish community of Madrid. The community is predominantly Sephardic, with a lot of Moroccans who left Spain after the Inquisition and returned within the last few generations, as well as recently arrived Jews from Latin America. It was very interesting to navigate the different groups that made up the community. Not only did the experience reaffirm my faith in my religion but also I now question, on a deeper level, the traditions my family taught me and why we have chosen to observe Judaism the way we do.

    Abby Browngoehl

Abigail Browngoehl ‘19, Madrid, Spain
As I prepared to leave our cozy Middlebury Hillel for a nonreligious semester in Europe, Rabbi Danielle approached me about KAHAL, an organization that connects Jewish Americans studying abroad with Jewish communities and other Jewish youth. I signed up, and before I even left for Madrid I was receiving emails about Shabbat dinners waiting for me across the ocean. My first weekend in Madrid I went to a Shabbat service and was incredibly surprised to find a carefree and homey community. They welcomed me and my far-less-than-perfect Spanish, invited me to celebrate with them, asked me about myself, and most importantly, fed me challah. For Passover, my friend and I went to a seder in an old synagogue in Prague, and the next day we went to an Easter Mass at a stunningly blue church in Bratislava, Slovakia. The seder was entirely in Czech, and the Mass was entirely in Slovak—we didn’t understand a word of either service, but it was incredible to spend these special holidays immersed in the culture of the countries that welcomed us.

Charles P. Scott Center for Spiritual and Religious Life
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Middlebury, VT 05753